Harvard affiliates and Cambridge art lovers are eagerly visiting the Harvard Art Museums, which reopened in early September, nearly 18 months after shutting their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After opening to Harvard affiliates on Sept. 1, Harvard’s three art museums — The Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum — invited the general public back to their galleries on Sept. 4.
“It’s been very sad not to have the students in the space, because they animate the space,” HAM director Martha Tedeschi said. “They’re a big part of why we’re here and of our legacy as a teaching museum, so it was super exciting to have the first students come in.
The museums have made several changes as the gallery reopens. Admission is now free for the general public on Sundays, part of an attempt to increase museum accessibility to non-Harvard affiliates.
Tedeschi said the program was immediately popular, and sold out during its first week.
Although the museum’s doors are open for visitors, the gift shop, like several other Square businesses, is struggling with a national labor shortage and remains closed. The museum’s cafe has likewise not reopened due to health concerns.
Tedeschi said the museums have decided to prioritize their educational services over staffing common spaces like the cafés.
“If coffee and the shop have to come a little bit later, that's the way it's gonna have to be,” Tedeschi said.
Students and professors said they were thrilled to be able to return and examine the artwork up close.
Joseph Koerner, a professor of History of Art and Architecture, said observing the artwork he studies in person is “always a revelation.” He noted that viewers often miss important artistic details if they only view art online.
“If you go to the museum, and see it again, you might say, 'oh, my God, I never knew! I thought it was much bigger than that or much smaller, or less glossy or dark',” Koerner said.
David J. Roxburgh, the chair of the department of History of Art and Architecture, also noted the value of viewing art up close in person.
“There's nothing that can substitute for direct access to the collection,” Roxburgh said.
Adam T. Sella ‘22, a tour guide for the art museums, said the experience of being back in person far exceeds the socially-distant Zoom events.
“It is great to be in the museum to actually get to see the work, to talk to people, and to have other people see the art itself, rather than an image of the art on Zoom,” Sella said.
The museums currently have several new exhibitions that launched with the reopening. “Devour The Land” is a collection of nearly 160 photographs highlighting the environmental damage caused by the U.S. military, a topic that Tedeschi argued has not received sufficient attention in the art world.
“An issue that's been written about, but has not been dealt with by the arts, is that the American military is the biggest polluter in the United States,” she said. “And that sometimes that pollution is really under the surface but manifests in the illnesses of communities.”
Linda Greer, an environmental activist, visited Harvard from Washington, D.C. with the sole purpose of viewing “Devour The Land.” She said she hopes all Harvard students will stop by before it closes on Jan. 16, 2022.
“I really think that they might have to spend two visits, because it is a lot to take in,” she said. “It is really well worth some time.”
Tedeschi recommended students visit the art galleries to unwind.
“Using the experience to hone your powers of observation a little bit while relaxing your body can be really helpful,” she said. “Some people might go to a yoga class, other people might go to the museum.”